Tag Archives: o hai NSA

PTJ 181 News: Full Court Press

fccCould the digital divide in America be closing just a bit? The Federal Communications Commission has tweaked its plan for low-cost broadband Internet access and presented a proposal to its members this week that brings broadband service for $9.25 a month. The new broadband plan is an update to its 1985 Lifeline program to subsidize landline service for qualifying low-income consumers and the 2008 enhancement to the plan to include mobile-phone help. Lifeline has gotten the usual government-program charges of fraud, waste and abuse (and other gripes) from its detractors, like what counts as average broadband speed. The FCC countered by saying it does have some fraud-prevention measures. Some providers like Sprint don’t care for the proposed reforms to the Lifeline program, but a vote on the new system by FCC members is expected on March 31st.

Facebook is making its Instant Articles feature easier to use for people who aren’t even major media organizations. The company said a few weeks ago that it was opening up the Instant Articles feature to all publishers and this week, Facebook announced a new open-source plug-in for WordPress.  The opening of Instant Articles For All is expected to happen in time for the company’s annual F8 Conference in San Francisco next month. In an even more reassuring development, Facebook also awarded $15,000 to a hacker who demonstrated how he could use basic software to crack open the account of any user on the service. Yes, Facebook has since fixed the flaw in its system.

Mozilla, which recently bailed out, er, pivoted, on its Firefox OS for smartphones, is moving into the Internet of Things, where appliances rule the 802.11 airwaves. In a post on the Mozilla blog, the company outlined four new projects designed to integrate Firefox technologies into connected devices and asked for volunteers to help test out the new stuff. If you are a developer and are interested in working on any of it, check out Project Link, Project Sensor Web, Project Smart Home or Project Vaani.

In gaming news, Capcom is spanking players who rage-quit its Street Fighter V game by docking their League Points for bad behavior.  So there! And Microsoft it just announced it was canceling development of its Fable Legends game for Xbox and closing Lionhead Studios in the United Kingdom and Press Play Studios in Denmark.

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Also over in the House of Microsoft, the company has now enabled Skype chat right from OneDrive when you are collaborating on an Office Online document and just have to talk it out with your co-authors. And whispers around Redmond say Microsoft has pushed back the next big upfate to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 2 from later this year to until spring of 2017 to better align with new device hardware on the way. No comment from Microsoft so far.

There’s a reportedly nasty piece of OS X ransomware out there, looking to lock up your Mac until you pay up. The malware, called KeRanger, only affects the Transmission BitTorrent client installer. If you use the program, here’s a link to more information. If you don’t use the program, you can skip the freak-out.

craigIn other Apple-related news, the Department of Justice is appealing last week’s federal court ruling in Brooklyn that said the government could not use the centuries-old All Writs Act force Apple to unlock a user’s iPhone. And Craig Federighi (shown here), Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering and fabulous hair, recently wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post explaining Apple’s stance in its ongoing fight with the FBI. Security experts have also weighed in on the matter in a recent Bloomberg News article that says the FBI should just hack the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone themselves since it would be faster.  There’s also some worry that if the US government forces Apple to start unlocking iPhones left and right for security reasons, the European Union privacy regulators will delay their verdict on the EU-US privacy shield agreement. (In other not-so-good legal news for Apple, the Supreme Court has declined to listen to the company’s appeal for the e-book price fixing case. Cue the sound of a very large check being written.)

Also in Europe, Google, Indexer of the Past, is expanding the European court-ordered Right to Be Forgotten.  However,  Americans mortified by their pasts lurking online still have nowhere to complain, even though a consumer advocacy group petitioned the Federal Trade Commission last year to make Google allow us Yanks to forget our documented-and- digitized discretions as well.

Verizon Wireless is having its own issues with the concept of privacy. The Federal Communications Commission (clearly having a busy year so far) has slapped the telecom giant with a $1.35 million dollar fine and a a three-year consent decree to settle the case of the privacy-chomping supercookies that first surfaced in 2014.

fiWhen it comes to Internet service providing, Google is mainly known for its Google Fiber broadband, but the company also has a lesser-known cellphone service that piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile networks. It’s called Project Fi and the reason you may have not heard of it before is that it was invitation-only since it launched last year. But as of this week, anybody with a Nexus 6, 6P or 5X can  get Project Fi service. You just need to go to (where else?) the Sign Up page to get started.

Amazon, keeping an eye on Apple’s legal punch-up with the DOJ, has now weighed in and said it was going to restore the device encryption capabilities it just yanked out of its Fire OS 5 software. Amazon said it originally took out the feature because no one was using it, but has now decided to re-enable the feature in an update to the system this spring.

rayAnd finally, we here at Pop Tech Jam offer out condolences to the family of Ray Tomlinson, the programmer credited with the modern invention of electronic mail with the groovy little @ sign back in 1971. Mr. Tomlinson passed away last week at the age of 74. He was a member of the Internet Hall of Fame and said he picked the @ sign because it just “made sense.”  Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for setting the standard.

PTJ 172 News: Wake-Up Call

Talk about your Rey of light! The seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise opened last Thursday night and went on to make $247.9 million dollars in its first weekend and broke several other records along the way, Many people stayed off the Internet and social media to avoid spoilers until they saw the film, and Google Trends set up a whole page of Star Wars: The Force Awakens-related lists based on the terms people were using in Google Search. The countdown for Rogue One (December 16th, 2016) and Episode VIII (May 26th, 2017) has begun!

Meanwhile, in a galaxy much closer to home, the folks at SpaceX must be breathing a sign of relief after the company was able to launch — and land — a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week. The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, delivered 11 low-earth satellites into orbit for the ORBCOMM company and then returned safely and in one piece about 10 minutes later. After previous mishaps and an explosion earlier this year, SpaceX redesigned the Falcon 9 rocket and the company plans to reuse the booster for another mission. (Let’s hope they clean the crew cabin between flights, unlike some domestic airlines around here.)

spacex

Like tarting up images and then sharing them online? Adobe, maker of Photoshop, has a new free iOS app called Adobe Post. It’s described in detail on an Adobe blog, and yes, the company says an Android version is in the works. As Macworld points out, though, you have to share the app with a friend to get rid of an watermark Post puts on your pictures. Also in picture news, Facebook is adding support for the Live Photos created by Apple’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models. While the new feature is slowly rolling out, only users with the iOS version of Facebook’s app will be able to see the mini moving pictures. Oh, well.

It sounds like Microsoft and Google are talking over each other, at least when it comes to the Cortana assistant app on Android devices. In a recent update to the app for the American version, Microsoft has disabled the voice-activated “Hey Cortana” feature apparently due to microphone conflicts with the “OK, Google” voice command. Microsoft also announced this week it was going to crack down on aggressive adware that makes PC users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. As of March 31st next year, Microsoft plans to yank or block adware that defies its policies.

The Nielsen folks have released their list of the top apps of 2015 as measured by the number of users.  Odds are, you’re probably using one or two of the winning apps.

visitorJuniper Networks, which makes firewall for business enterprise customers, had to issue the advisory last week that so company remotely related to online protection wants to release: the Security Bulletin outlining multiple issues with one of its products.  A short FAQ on the incident. patches and workarounds were also posted. Wired reports that researchers now think the National Security Agency was at least partially responsible, and cryptography expert Matthew Green even has a blog post describing how hackers used an existing back door to make one of their own. Also in government snooping news, Apple is pushing back at a bill in the United Kingdom that seeks to expand Parliament’s investigatory powers and could give the government the power to make Apple decrypt its iMessage service.

The Federal Trade Commission has chased down the Oracle Corporation and charged that the company bamboozled customers about the safety of security updates to its Java software.  Thanks to a legal order, Oracle must provide an uninstall tool so users can pry the old Java crapware off their systems and make sure future updates actually provide the promised security.

hellkittyAnother week, another database leak. And another one that involves information about kids — Hello Kitty, of all things. Several sites have reported on the incident, but the one called The Office of Inadequate Security over at www.databreaches.net and the Salted Hash site lay it down: “Database Leak Exposes the 3.3 Million Hello Kitty Fans.”  The issue was discovered by security researcher Chris Vickery, who has been having a banner year of fail-hunting, and appears to be more of a server misconfiguration thing rather than hacker tracks. Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, posted a statement on its site saying credit-card info was not at risk and yes, they fixed the problem.

While passwords can be a pain, especially when they’re hacked, Google is experimenting with a new way of logging in via smartphone notification. Yahoo, which has had its own security problems, updated its Yahoo Mail mobile app last fall that also did away with passwords in favor of a push notification to a mobile device. Just don’t lose your phone.

Layoffs are a fact of life in the tech industry and Toshiba is taking a hit now. The company, which claims to have released the world’s first mass-market laptop back in 1985 and affordable models in the 1990s, has been steadily losing ground to rival companies in Asia. The company, which also had a major accounting scandal this summer, said Monday it plans to cut about five percent of its workforce .

rosieThe Consumer Electronics Show is still about three weeks away, but the advance press releases are already starting to trickle out. Cleaning fans take note, LG plans to reveal what it calls “the world’s first augmented reality vacuum cleaner” at CES next month. The company’s HOM-BOT Turbo+ uses three camera sensors to record its surroundings to keep track of where it has already cleaned — and  to transmit a real-time feed to its owner’s smartphone. The human just needs to tap an area of the room displayed on the screen to have the HOM-BOT go over there and clean it. Because the vacuum has motion sensors along with its cameras, it can also be used to keep an eye on the place, but the HOM-BOT doesn’t quite sound like its up to a Terminator level of protection . . . yet.

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PTJ 158 News: Fall Harvest

Oh, look! It’s September again and Apple has announced a bunch of new stuff this week, including:

• An update to the Apple Watch operating system,  new watchbands and the “Hermès Collection
• The iPad Maxi, er, iPad Pro with fancy optional accessories like the $100 Apple Pencil and a flexible Smart Keyboard
• The long-awaited hardware update to the Apple TV with Siri-powered remote and games
• The new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
• The arrival of iOS 9 on September 16th

Oh, and rose gold is apparently a thing.

But Apple was in the spotlight for other reasons as well this week. A story on the front page of The New York Times highlighted the company’s national security tussle with the United States government over encryption and data access with software like iMessage, a program Apple says it can’t decrypt itself.

lgtvThe fall tech bounty does not begin nor end with the Fruit-Themed Toymaker of Cupertino, however. The annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin just ended this week and like the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas each January, companies preview many products and tech journalists look for trends. Meanwhile, LG Electronics did some fun stuff with flat televisions, like making a  double-sided 4K OLED set (shown here, and probably just a prototype). And if you like a lot of pixels, Canon announced that it’s developed a 250-megapixel sensor that’s still small enough to fit inside a DSLR camera.

Comcast is testing a new form of data plan in south Florida. While the company normally imposes a 300-gigabytes-a-month limit, customers can now pay an extra $30  for the Unlimited Data Option. It’s just like those old unlimited broadband plans of yore, except more expensive!

Verizon announced its new Go90 mobile streaming TV service this week. The service will be ad-supported and show programs young people want to watch.

A 7-inch display for the Raspberry Pi barebones computer went on sale this week for $60. Here’s what you can do with it:

The publishing industry and Amazon had a very public spat last year over e-book pricing, which eventually led to new distribution deals with the under mega-everything store. But while several publishers got to charge more for their e-books and lose less income to Amazon’s deep discounts, recent sales reports show that their e-book revenue declined overall in the last quarter.

EdgeMicrosoft really, really, really wants you to use its new Edge browser and has even employed its Bing search engine to steer you away from the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. If you happed to search for an alternative browser with Bing on Edge, you see a little box at the top of your search results declaring that Microsoft Edge is really the best browser for Windows 10 and click this here link to learn why. However, the browser does not actually stop you from stepping off the Edge.

A writer over at BuzzFeed is disputing the recent PageFair study that estimated ad-blocking software would make sites lose $21 billion in ad revenue this year, bit even squishy numbers do not soothe The Interactive Advertising Bureau. According to Advertising Age, the trade group met this summer to discuss what to do, including filing lawsuits against companies that make ad-blocking software, but nothing major has been decided yet. The IAB did vote to move away from Adobe Flash and make HTML5 its new standard for online ads. And in related news AdBlock Plus just announced its first official ad-blocking app for iOS and than it was back in the Google Play store for Android.

NASA said late last week that it has begun its intensive data downlink phase to grab the massive amount of data the New Horizons spacecraft collected during its Pluto flyby in July.  The agency also announced that engineers at a facility in New Orleans have welded together the first two segments of the Orion crew module that will be used in a test flight to the far side of the moon in preparation for an eventual manned journey to Mars.

stormtroopersAnd finally, September 4th last week was Force Friday, the day retailers unleashed a giant wave of new officially licensed Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise into stores around the world. Global celebration events included midnight sales and twerking stormtroopers in Times Square. And as the BBC has noted, all of these merch sales could make this seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise “the biggest film ever.” December 18th, folks — or even earlier, if you happen to live in popular parts of Europe. Okay, who’s checking mid-December airfare to France now?

PTJ 155 News: Grin and Bear It

marshAfter months of speculation, Android M has an official snack nickname in Google’s pantheon of tasty versions! Android 6.0, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, will be called Marshmallow and the software development kit is now available for those who want to build apps for it. Ever so busy, Google also just built a standalone website for its Hangouts videochat service, too.

As a story in last weekend’s New York Times tells it, Amazon is the modern equivalent of a massive Dickensian workhouse where everyone is overworked and crying.  As one can imagine, however, Twitter got hopping and Amazon spokespeople were quick to defend the company, fanning out across print, television and Internet to rebut The Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even wrote a company-wide memo that was widely leaked, and the NYT Public Editor weighed in as well.

Amazon was not the only company with a PR team in overdrive lately. The social media team at the dating app Tinder took offense to a Vanity Fair article lamenting the rise of hookup apps in general and went on a long Twitter rant against the magazine and the author of the article. During the tweetstorm, the Tinder Twitter complained the writer did not contact the company for comment and accused Vanity Fair of one-side journalism. Others noted the article wasn’t specifically about Tinder, but dating apps in general, and said the company behaved like a hurt teenage girl lashing out and seemed surprised that journalists do things differently than PR people. Salon wondered if the whole thing was “a sincerely epic case of butthurt or just a clever attention-getting ruse.”

In other online hookup news, the National Security Agency and AT&T apparently had quite a partnership in sharing customer data. As revealed in the latest document dump from Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times and ProPublica, AT&T gave the NSA access to billions of emails crossing its domestic networks, as well as a massive amount of cellphone calling records.

As for government agencies, there are new reports out that the hack on the Internal Revenue Service was larger than originally thought. New evidence points to the hack starting several months earlier than first noted as well. So, instead of 100,000 people having their personal details swiped, it’s more than 300,000.

Sprint is the latest carrier to ditch two-year cellphone contracts, following T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. As part of its service overhaul, Sprint introduced its iPhone Forever plan, which gets you the current model for $22 a month on your bill.

robokillerThe Federal Trade Commission has announced the winner of last spring’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” challenge to developers. The $25,000 prize goes to an app called RoboKiller. If you want to know how it works, check out this PDF and the Kickstarter page.

The same sort of malvertising campaign that infested Yahoo’s ad network seems to have spread to other sites around the Web. The Malwarebytes security team reports they’ve now seen poison adverts on aol.com, weather.com, Weather Underground, The Drudge Report and other well-traveled domains.

Comcast is said to have new video platform called Watchable waiting in the wings. According to the Business Insider site, the telecom giant has formed partnerships with digital publishers like Vox, Buzzfeed, The Onion, Mic, Vice, Refinery29 and other sites to package content for streaming on the service. (BuzzFeed, for its part, announced this week that it was getting a 200 million dollar investment from Comcast family member NBC Universal to put toward its video efforts.) The new Comcast service, if it exists, could also compete with Verizon’s upcoming Go90 mobile video service.

Facebook is revamping its blog-like Notes feature to make it more appealing to users who have forgotten than Notes exists. Some have observed that the wide-margined new Notes templates make them look like articles on Medium. (Does anyone remember actually using Facebook Notes outside of those viral “15 Things” lists?)

Boston Dynamics recently released a video (below) that showed off Atlas, its humanoid robot with a stomp through the woods in such a manner that The Washington Post likened it to “a drunk Iron Man.” For those who have forgotten, Boston Dynamics is owned by Google, which is testing Atlas as an experimental bipedal rescue machine. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like, well, a Cylon.

The 9to5Mac site is beefing up the details on its New Apple TV rumor coverage and is now predicting the new set-top streamer will have a new streamlined hardware design, new user interface, iOS 9, App Store access, that dedicated remote control we heard about earlier this year and Siri support.

Apple’s Siri assistant can do more than just set calendar appointments and look up baseball scores. The program was credited with saving the life of a teenage boy in Tennessee when he was pinned under his truck after the tire jack collapsed. While he was shifting around trying to get out from under the 5,000-pound Dodge Dakota, he heard the familiar Siri bleep coming from his back pocket and was able to get the app to call 911 for help with a life-saving butt-dial.

And finally, it’s not just shotgun owners and other privacy minded people who are annoyed by unmanned drones buzzing around overhead. Bears in the woods do not like drones either. Researchers at the University of Minnesota put health-tracking monitors on six black bears and recorded the ursine reaction to 17 drone flights. The heart rates of all the bears increased when the drones were within 21 years overhead — which indicates stress. The 15-page paper titled “Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” was published online in the journal Current Biology and concludes that more research is needed to see if the bears would get used to the drones over time. The study, in one convenient image:

bearchart

Wildlife researchers do use drones in their work to observe animals from a distance, and Canada even has what the BBC calls a “goose-bothering drone” designed to scare off pesky Canadian geese in Ottawa by blasting recordings of predatory birds. And why yes, that drone is called the GooseBuster. Who ya gonna call?

PTJ 152 News: Roll The Windows Down

At last! Windows 10 was released this week and the early reviews are now rolling in. The Wall Street Journal said “Windows is actually useful again, assuming you still rely on a PC,” and “If you knew how to use Windows XP back in 2001, you’ve have no problem finding your way 5tharound Windows 10.” (So much for the Modern interface way of doing things.) The Verge chimes in with “Windows has a cycle. Windows XP saved us from Windows ME, Windows 7 saved us from the Windows Vista mess, now Windows 10 is here to save us from Windows 8. It’s nice to be on the good part of the cycle.”  (If you live in New York City,  you can go Windows shopping this fall, as Microsoft has plans to finally open that long-planned flagship Fifth Avenue store.

Samsung has a party of its own planned for New York. The company’s “Unpacked” media event is scheduled for August 13 and may include announcements of new phones are maybe even the company’s virtual-reality headset.

Google+ Photos got kicked to the curb last week and now we’re seeing signs of the Google+ empire getting further dismantled. The company announced this week that it was doing away with the requirement to have a Google+ profile in order to use many Google services like Gmail and YouTube. (While Google+ was busy extracting itself from other Google services, the department did have some time to do a little study on promotional app interstitial advertisements.)

Google Search rolls out new feature that hows the “popular times” for restaurants and other venues known to have lines — so you can avoid those lines. (Google uses crowd-sourced congestion data to get the information.) And if you use the Google app on an Android phone, you can say “OK, Google” and have it send messages using WhatsApp, Vivber and other texting apps.

Speaking of Android, new phones are in the works. Motorola, now owned by Chinese electronics maker Lenovo, has just announced the Moto X Pure Edition and the Moto Play, unlocked Android smartphones that will cost $400 and $180 respectively. And if you’re looking for a big-featured, lower-priced smartphone, the OnePlus 2 — dubbed the 2016 Flagship Killer — is on the way.

hackdroidNot all is groovy in Android Land, however. Researchers at Zimperium have uncovered a security flaw in Android 2.2 and later that makes it possible to get hacked through a malware-infected text message. Patches have been written but are slow rolling out, given the huge number of carriers and companies who make the estimated 950 million Android phones out there.

Apple reported big fat profits in its quarterly earnings statement last week, and signs point to the Apple Watch doing better than anticipated. While it won’t likely be the overhyped posh personalized shopping journey as the Apple Store offers, Best Buy will start selling the Apple Watch on August 7th.

After a month of turmoil, Reddit has lost another high-profile female employee. Jessica Moreno, the head of community for the site, has given notice.

Pandora is making its Sponsored Listening option available to all its advertisers. This now means listeners can get an hour of ad-free listening if you agree to watch a video ad ahead of time. No you do not get to pick the movie yourself.

nsaThe National Security Agency is going to start wiping those bulk phone records it’s been hoovering up as part of the Patriot Act. In June, President Obama signed a law called the USA Freedom Act that prevents the NSA from storing the phone records and forces the agency’s investigators to request the files form the phone companies if they are needed for a case. The NSA will stop using the existing records by November 29th.

In other government news, New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he want to provide $60 million dollars in funding for a technology that would disable a car if it senses the driver is drunk. The technology here is called Driver Alcohol Detection System for chuckSafety, or DADDS and the bill, which was introduced earlier this summer in the House as well, is called The Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-related Fatalities Everywhere (ROADS SAFE) Act of 2015. DADDS uses breath and touch sensors to determine a driver’s blood alcohol level and disable a vehicle if the level is above the legal limit.

And while we’re talking about cars, Fiat Chrysler is recalling 1.4 million cars and trucks to update software that has been proven vulnerable to hackers — a concept they’ve been proving at DefCon since at least 2013.

kittAnd finally, more cars! ThinkGeek is making fans of Knight Rider very happy. The company just released its KITT USB Car Charger that looks just like the light-up voicebox in the car from the iconic 1980s TV series staring David Hasselhoff and the voice of William Daniels. The $30 dashboard attachment provides two USB ports for charging your gear on the go, along with 11 different audio clips from the show.
Shop now. You know you want it.

PTJ 149 News: BBQ and Robots, Too!

This summer is turning out to be a big one for space news and demoted-planet Pluto is due for its star turn next week. NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft, which woke up from hibernation last December, had a bit of a glitch that knocks it into Safe Mode on July 4th, but scientists say the craft is ready for its close flyby of Pluto on the morning of July 14th. If everything goes according to plan, New Horizons is expected to pass less than 7,800 hundred miles from the surface of little Pluto, which is relatively close in space terms; The New York Times has a great video on the topic. (And earlier this week in space, scientists on the Philae lander project were hoping to find signs of alien life on old Comet 67P, but comet experts are now pooh-poohing the notion.)

More than a dozen pre-eminent cryptographers and computer scientists have come together to produce a paper called “Keys Under Doormats: Mandating Insecurity By Requiring Government Access to All Data and Communications,” and in this paper, they challenge the intelligence agencies of the United States and the United Kingdom over government desires for special backdoors to be built into encrypted communications. The cryptographers find the government proposals to be unprincipled and unworkable. Many of the same cryptographers came together back in the 1990s to take down the Clinton administration’s proposed Clipper Chip, which would have provided a hardware backdoor into encrypted communications.

BBmicrobitThe British Broadcasting Corporation does more than just global news shows, historical costume dramas and Doctor Who. This week, the Beeb introduced its new initiative to help kids get into tech. The organization, along with 29 corporate partners, is giving out a programmable, pocket-sized “BBC Micro:Bit” bare-bones computer to all Year 7 students. Microsoft, ARM and Samsung were among the corporate partners on the project.

While Samsung helps out in the UK, its overall corporate intake dipped in the second quarter this year. The South Korea-based company reported a four-percent drop in 2Q, thanks in part to weaker-than-expected sales of its new phones. You can, however, get $200 off a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 if you buy it before July 26th.

tosserSpeaking of Microsoft, the Redmond giant is gearing up for its Windows 10 launch at the end of the month. The RTM, or Release to Manufacturing edition, is reportedly out the door this week, the preview of the revamped Bing Maps arrived and the Xbox Music service has now been rebranded as Groove. Xbox Video is now called Movies & TV, and there’s a special Windows 10 beta version of Minecraft on the way July 29th as well. And over in the experimental labs of Microsoft Garage, a new app called Tossup (shown here) is out now for Android and iOS smartphones.

Word from the Appleverse blogs has it that selected third-party accessory makers hoping to sell their wares in official Apple Stores will have to use new packaging co-designed by Apple itself. The reported shift is said to be part of a transition to a “premium feel” for products sold in Apple emporiums, as well as reducing clutter on store shelves.

Also in Apple news, many Kaisers, er, users were up in arms last week when it was discovered that the iOS 8.4 update that brought the Apple Music service into the world also took away the longstanding music Home Sharing feature. Home Sharing, which had been around since iTunes 9 back in 2009, allowed the streaming of one’s music library between devices and Macs and PCs running iTunes. While most people assumed the feature was yanked due to the legal tangle of music rights wadded up in Apple Music, Eddy Cue, Apple Senior VP and Taylor Swift best buddy, said the company is working to restore Home Sharing in the upcoming iOS 9.

Photographers who like Instagram but feel the 640 x 640 resolution was way too low for quality presentation will be happy to know that the service has quietly goosed up the rez to 1080 x 1080 pixels. A company representative said the Instagram apps for Android and iOS are bring updated to take advantage of the new feature.

goproAlso in photography news, GoPro, which makes those small wearable video cameras for recording first-person action adventures, now has an even smaller camera on the way. The company’s new model, the Hero4 Session, is half the size of the Hero4 Black model. The new tinycam is expected to start shipping next week and has a decidedly not-tiny price tag of $400.

Twitter has added the ability for users to list their birthdays on their Twitter profiles. If you have a massively public feed or draw a lot of hate tweets, though, perhaps you want to skip the sharing there.

Giant robot battles just aren’t for the movies anymore. Last week, MegaBot USA threw down the big iron gauntlet at Japan’s Suidobashi Heavy Industry and challenged the company to a giant robot duel with a video. Naturally, Suidobashi responded with its own video to accept and the battle is on for next year. Get ready for some mecha-stomping good times!

bbqbotAnd finally, summer is here and the backyard grilling and barbecuing is in full flame. Texas and the rest of the South may get all the press for the quality barbecue eats, but don’t forget about that Yankee ingenuity. Way up yonder in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 16 engineering students from Harvard University have built what Wired is calling “the ultimate BBQ Bot” that brings science to the smoke. Admit it: you are totally hungry now, aren’t you?

PTJ 147 News: Lady Justice

Good on ya, Taylor Swift! Now, you may not care for her music or her sudden promotion to New York City’s official “global welcome ambassador,” but the young singer/songwriter knows how to stand up for herself and her fellow musicians trying to make a living. In a public post on her Tumblr page this past weekend, Ms. Swift called out Apple over the lack of artist royalties during the three-month free trial period of the company’s forthcoming Apple Music adventure — and said she’d be withholding her latest album from the service. But Apple, for its part, did the right thing. By Sunday night, the company announced that it’d be paying artists their due royalties for all the music streamed during the free trial of Apple Music. (Of course,  conspiracy theorists are suspicious about the whole thing, like they always are.)

googleplaymusicApple Music rolls out on June 30th, but Google is not waiting around for it. The Big G announced a new, free ad-supported version of its subscription-based Google Play Music service for  “giving you a new way to find just the right music and giving artists another way to earn revenue.” (Oh snap, Google.) If you’re looking for a new stream, the service is available now via the Web and will be hitting Android and IOS devices soon. If you find you like Google Play Music and want to subscribe, you get ad-free offline listening, song skips and on-demand access to more than 30 million tracks for just $10 a month. Spotify has got to be feeling a little nervous these days.

Meanwhile, the Tidal music service has hit a bit of a rough wave. The company has booted its interim CEO after three months.

In legal news, Verizon says it’s completed its acquisition of AOL on paper. The Federal Communications Commission did not actually have to approve this particular deal because AOL did not have any licenses before the FCC that would have tripped that trigger. The agency, however, has been keeping itself busy by slapping a $100 million dollar fine on AT&T for misleading consumers about unlimited data plans and throttling.

eyeballIn guv’ment news, the regular document dumps from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon continue. A new post over on The Intercept blog details how the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, have reverse-engineered consumer antivirus and security software products. (In more government news, the State Department of the United States is having an epic fail over in the biometrics department.)

And on the subject of biometrics, a new research paper from scientists at UC Berkeley and Facebook’s AI Research division has found that The Social Network’s facial-recognition software can often identify people in photos, even when their faces are looking away from the camera or partly obscured. The team used Facebook’s algorithm on 40,000 public photos pulled from Flickr and found it could accurately ID people about 83 percent of the time. Oh, and Facebook’s Instagram has just updated its Search tool.

echoAmazon’s Echo device is now available to members of the general public now. The voice-activated, Internet-connected  9-inch tall cylindrical Bluetooth speaker streams music and answers questions just like Siri, Cortana and Google Now. If your life needs an Echo, head over to Amazon’s site, pay up $180 and start watching the mailbox after July 14th.  Amazon is also throwing a little artificial intelligence at the problem of fake product reviews over on its main store site and is cleaning up the astroturf.

As promised, mayorships are finally back in Foursquare’s spun-off Swarm app. Let the check-in competition begin once again.

In Windows 10 news, Microsoft has tried to clarify just who gets the new system for free. Recently, there was some confusion as to whether people in the Windows Insider preview program who didn’t have legitimate copies of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 would get the free finished copy of Windows 10. (They get to stay as previewers.)

As a wrap-up of last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, The Mary Sue blog notes there are 23 games announced at the show that feature “badass playable female characters.” Lady justice, indeed.

spidermanAnd finally, with great power comes great responsibility and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan certainly knows it — as well as her old-school Spider-Man. The Court sent down a decision in the case of Kimble v. Marvel, in which the Supremes declined to overrule a precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after said patent expired. In her written opinion for the majority on the case, Justice Kagan showed off her comic-book chops with multiple Spider-Man references. Now, just imagine if she was a fan of The Punisher….

PTJ 143 News: Red-Letter Days

Who says the epistolary arts are dead in this age of text and email? As user-privacy rights and national-security concerns continue to clash, stern words are still the weapons of choice.  This week, a coalition of 140 technology companies, security experts and other industry players sent a letter to President Obama asking him to “reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products.” The letter comes in response to recent remarks by Administration officials that suggested American companies not use (or create) products secured by encryption —unless a backdoor key was provided to the government. No word on a White House reply yet, not even from the President’s new official Twitter account. (Perhaps Mr. Obama was busy joshing with Mr. Clinton.)

The White House was not the only place that got a note of concern this week. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, received a group letter of opposition signed by 67 digital rights groups who don’t like the idea of the company’s Internet.org project because it stifles the concept of net neutrality, freedom of expression and all that stuff.

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Also in letter writing news, the Federal Trade Commission has asked the bankruptcy court handling the RadioShack case to protect the personal information of former RadioShack customers. As more companies eventually go bust and their data assets are up for grabs, the FTC will likely be writing a lot more letters.

Worried that the telcos will backslide on those new Net Neutrality rules from the Federal Communications Commission? Internet activists have launched an Internet Health Test site  that checks the quality of your broadband connection and looks for any sign of speed degradation, perhaps by an ISP throttling. Your results are then shared as compiled data in the public domain. Meanwhile, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who once threatened to pause developments of fiber networks if the FCC’s new rules were passed, said AT&T would keep investing in its infrastructure because he is now confident the new rules will be overturned.

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Federal investigators are looking into the claims of one Chris Roberts, a security researcher who said he was able to hack into the computer systems on an United Airlines flight. He said he could gain enough control to do things like drop the oxygen masks, mess with the cockpit’s alert system or even cause the plane to move sideways. Um, yeah, Federal officials, please look into this.

According to an investigative piece out this week from Advertising Age, Google has a crack squad of Antifraud Specialists fighting the ad-bot hucksters. And speaking of  exploits, there’s a new one out that shows a proof-of-concept address-spoofing attack using a bug in Apple’s Safari web browser.

In other Apple News, the fancy new 15-inch MacBook Pro with the ForceTouch trackpad is available now, as is a cheaper version of the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices start at about $2,000 for either. If the Internet can be believed,  Apple is getting ready to roll out some fresh code for both the Apple Watch and the Apple TV; the new version of that set-top box is expected  next month at the World Wide Developers Conference. Oh, and The Wall Street Journal has a story this week that explains why Apple hasn’t jumped into the full-on television market yet.

The Internet has come to the rescue again! After it was canceled by Fox, Mindy Kaling’s sitcom, The Mindy Project, was picked up by TV-streaming service Hulu for a fourth season of 26 new episodes.

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Google and the University of Washington have teamed up for an inventive project that uses 86 million pictures from photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa to create amazing time-lapse videos. The researchers wrote up their findings in a paper whimsically titled “Time-Lapse Mining from Internet Photos.”

And finally, Microsoft is celebrating 25 years of Solitaire on Windows. Woo hoo! Microsoft’s solitaire collection, which includes the standard Klondike version, plus the FreeCell, Spider, TriPeaks, and Pyramid variations, is available free in the online app store for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. Here’s to a quarter century of lost productivity in offices across the globe!

PTJ 137 News: Sticks and Phones

roku3Spring is full of popular television shows returning with fresh new episodes, and streaming TV boxes are busting a move. Roku has upgraded its Roku 3 and Roku 2 set-top streaming boxes with improved features like alphabetical search and a movie watchlist. A software update for existing Roku boxes also adds these features. The $100 Roku 3 (shown here) now has voice search — and a headphone jack — in its remote control. The $70 Roku 2 is pretty much the same streaming box without the fancy remote. Oh, and Roku just updated its Android app and is putting the finishing touches on the iOS version this week.

BuzzFeed New, which was the first to publish reports on the new updated Apple TV box expected later this year, has new information on the forthcoming device, mainly that it will not initially support those big but glorious 4K video streams. Apple is not commenting.

With new phones, come new complaints from early adopters — and PR moves to quell the unrest.  Samsung responded to a video from mobile-warranties dealer SquareTrade that purported to show a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge being bent and then broken. While arguing about the test’s methodology, Samsung released its own “Three-Point Bend Test” video. (The company also says that contrary to reports from developer forums, pre-installed apps on its Galaxy S6 phones cannot be uninstalled, just hidden from view.)

Ever quoted a tweet but had no room for your own comment due to Twitter’s character limit?  Twitter said this week that it was tweaking the “quote tweet” feature, which should give the quoters another 116 characters for snark or bark on the original.

Researchers at Stanford University are testing a new aluminum-ion battery that could one day replace the current lithium-ion and alkaline power cells we use today. They charge faster and catch on fire less, which is an improvement over current batteries all around.

oliverTV comedian John Oliver of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” interviewed NSA leaker Edward Snowden to discuss government surveillance reform. Oliver broke down the topic into parts the average user who does not care about the complexities of government surveillance can understand.  In other Snowden news, activists placed a large sculpture of Edward Snowden in the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn his week. City workers quickly removed it, but a second activist group then began to project a hologram in the same place dedicated to Snowden.

Facebook is apparently being used to officially serve divorce papers. Will Facebook weddings be legal soon, too?

Apple Maps has now added content from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on certain hotel reviews. Hopefully, the maps themselves have gotten better, too.

surface3Speaking of products that originally arrived with a deep thud, Microsoft just released a new version of its tablet computer. The Surface 3 is thinner and lighter than previous versions. Prices start at $499. The Surface 3 is the less-corporate version of the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s touted laptop-replacement tablet that starts at $799.

Microsoft is middle-aged now. The company, which was founded on April 5th, 1975, just celebrated the big 4-0 this past weekend and is shopping for future relevance along with a little red Corvette.

Microsoft may have gotten rich selling PC software, but the PC hardware itself has slimmed down quite a bit over the years. As shown at the top of this post, Intel’s Compute Stick, (which started pre-orders this week), is an extremely narrow portable PC that plugs into the HMDI port on a big monitor or TV. With a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it turns it into a Windows 8.1 or Linux computer.  You can’t shake a Compute Stick at the competition, though, as Google’s Chromebit offers a colorful alternative to the system-on-a-stick approach.

A new Microsoft update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 includes a little code for the future, reports the Myce.com site. There’s a Windows 10 downloader quietly nestled in the update code, just waiting for its cue to make Windows 8.1 users deliriously happy.

The new YouTube Kids mobile app is already coming under fire from parental groups. Some have asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a look at the program, which they says deceptively targets toddlers with advertising. Google denies the accusations, saying it worked with numerous child advocacy groups on the app.

It’s National Robotics Week! The annual event features more than 250 events around the country designed to get kids interested in the science of robotics. iRobot, the IEEE Spectrum and Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines are pitching in for the event and have even released a set of all-star real robot trading cards that you can download in PDF form, and IEEE Spectrum also has a free Robots app for the iPad that lets kids see and interact with 158 robots from 19 different countries. Because real robots are even cooler than movie robots (most of the time).

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PTJ 134 News: Clicks and Clacks

meerkatThere’s a ton of news coming out of the SXSW conference down in Austin, Texas, this week, including a new smartphone app called Meerkat that lets its users broadcast live video from their smartphones to their Twitter followers. Part of Meerket’s ease of use was that it can tap into a user’s Twitter contacts and get the party started fast. But last Friday, however, Twitter shut down access to its social graph, citing an internal policy. Twitter may have been treating Meerkat like a parasite app, and the fact that the bird-themed microblogging site quickly turned around and announced its January acquisition of Periscope seems a bit calculated. Some worry that Meerkat’s popularity and expansion will take a fatal hit unless it in turn gets bought by Facebook or Google, but the company’s founders vow to press on after all the PR at SXSW.

It’s March Madness again and we expect time-outs on the basketball court, but the Federal Communications Commission has called a time-out and stopped the clock (again) in the 180-day review periods for the pending Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV mergers. This time, the stoppage is due to a pending court decision about the disclosure of video-programming contracts between the service providers and content companies.

HBO’s new standalone streaming service has picked up another distributor along with Apple TV. Cablevision has announced that it, too, will allow subscribers to its Optimum broadband service sign up and stream content from HBO NOW without having to already have an HBO tithe bundled in their TV packages.

NBCBut that’s not all in streaming TV news this week! The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple is talks to create a small, 25-channel bundle of TV networks that could be subscribed to and streamed across the screens of iOS gadgets and connected Apple TV boxes. Apple, of course, Is. Not. Commenting. As reported, the deal could include streams from ABC, CBS, ESPN and Fox. While NBC has been MIA on the ATV, there are reports that The Peacock Network is actually in negotiations with Apple,  too.

Apple is also said to be revamping its trade-in and recycling program for old gear to include smartphones made by other manufacturers. The current program offers Apple Store Gift Cardsfor the value of the Apple product you want to unload so you can upgrade. According to the blog 9to5Mac, Apple Store employees will determine the trade-in value for old Android, Blackberry, WinPhone and other competing handsets and even transfer address-book contacts for new iPhone owners.

Facebook has updated its Community Standards policy and is bringing down the ban-hammer on nudity, with the usual non-porn exceptions like “art.” On the other side of the coin, Google is reversing course on its recent decision on adult content. Instead of outright banning sexual images, Google’s updated policy now says you can post your non-commercial naughty bits as long as you turn on the adult content warning for your blog.

Two notes from YouTube this week: The massive video-sharing site now supports interactive 360 degree videos. YouTube also announced its new YouTube for Artists effort, a resource portal for musicians seeking to get more audience engagement, as well as making money on YouTube through merchandise sales and online fundraising.

googlenowGoogle Now, the helpful-yet-creepy tool that automatically reminds you of things like restaurant reservations and flight times by using information in your Gmail, Google Calendar and other services, could be expanding its powers soon. A Google product manager said this week that the company plans to offer an open API that other companies can build into their own apps. This would move Google Now’s reach from beyond the 40 third-party services it works with already and could, in theory, add Google Now cards for things like line-wait times at theme parks, all while making Cortana and Siri feel like they need to step it up.

Google is also said to be tightening up app submissions in the Google Play Store by having a team of reviewers analyze the programs for developer policy violations before the software gets turned loose in the store. Apps will also be labeled using an age-based ratings system.

Nintendo is trying to get back in the game of games. The company has formed a partnership with DeNA to develop games for mobile gadgets and smart devices.

Microsoft has updated its Malicious Software Removal Tool to zap the controversial and security-exploitable Superfish adware that had been preinstalled by Lenovo on many of its new laptops sold between September 2014 and February 2015. Lenovo has also released its own Superfish Removal Tool and probably feels pretty guilty about the whole thing now.

The Pew Research Center has a new report out that examines how Americans feel about their privacy (or lack thereof) after revelations and leaks from the Department of Edward Snowden. While a majority of the survey respondents are in favor of the US government monitoring communications of suspected terrorists, American leaders and foreign leaders and citizens, there was also a majority that said it was unacceptable for the US government to monitor the communications of its own citizens.

hellobarbieChild privacy advocates are forming petitions and making a ruckus over the new Hello Barbie doll, which is a Wi-Fi capable version of the iconic blonde toy lady. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is one of the groups leading the charge against the new doll because it says this $75 Internet-connected Barbie uses a microphone to record children’s voices and then uploads the audio data to servers in the sky. While Mattel says this voice-recognition process is needed to make the doll interactive and respond to the kid, some parents are concerned that the company will be storing and analyzing the child’s conversations with NSA Barbie — or possibly be eavesdropping on the whole family.

And finally, the geek world lost another cherished icon last week with the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, British author of the Discworld series of fantasy novels. In honor of Sir Terry, fans and programmers have come up with a way to keep his name alive on the Internet based on a bit from his 2004 novel Going Postal. In the book, the Clacks, a telegraph-style communications system, was used to keep alive the name of one of the novel’s deceased characters by passing the code GNU John Dearheart endlessly back and forth across the network. So the fanbase came up with GNU Terry Pratchett, a snippet of code that can be added harmlessly to website HTML, mail servers and even WordPress blogs. Because:

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